As I have been traveling around the country this year, I have been living in two separate and distinct worlds. One world consists of the “Real World” of the Blue Lodges and the appendent and concordant bodies. The other consists of the “Virtual World” of Freemasonry.
In the real world, flesh and blood Masons meet for fellowship to perform Masonic rituals and conduct business meetings. This population is characterized by men primarily in their 50s and 60s. Although, a whole generation younger than the “Greatest Generation”, this group generally shares a lot of the same conservative values of the WWII group. These real world Masons are the keepers of the Masonic flame; they keep alive the customs and traditions of Freemasonry and are wary of any changes in the manner in which Freemasonry is practiced. From my observation, this group has a greater interest in the philanthropy than in the philosophy of Masonry. Masons in this group are not only separated from the newer generation of Masons by age, they are also less technically astute. Many of them don’t use or have access to computers and those that do use them simply for communicating via email.
My other world is the virtual world of Freemasonry accessible through the Internet. The characteristics of this group are a little harder to pin down. Members of this group often identify themselves with pseudonyms like Masonic Traveler, Palmetto Bug, and The Millennial Freemason. They usually represent themselves with avatars rather than their true images. My guess would be that these Masons are generally in their 30s and 40s, however there appears to be a large number of Gen Xers among this group. That’s not to say that older Masons do not frequent the Internet. One regular follower of this blog is a 91 year old Past Grand Master. One thing that this group generally has in common is an interest in the symbolism, philosophy, and history of Freemasonry. They also have an interest in and discuss contemporary issues like Masonic Recognition, Female Freemasonry, and Masonic Baptism. They share this interest on the Internet through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, through blogs and podcasts, and on forum pages like The Masonic Society and Sanctum Sanctorum. These Masons are quite adept at the use of modern technology and use that technology to create Masonic content and share it with the world.
I realize that I am generalizing quite a bit, but from my perspective there is an ever widening gap forming between the legacy Masons in the “Real World” and the next generation Masons in the “Virtual World” who are seeking the promise of more light in Masonry. Also, from my perspective, the largest population of Masons exists in the “Real World” and they appear to be either unaware of the ways of or just disinterested in expanding their knowledge of Freemasonry. They seem more interested in making members rather than making Masons.
More and more men are seeking the promise of Freemasonry. These men are lured by the popular media and the information they glean from the Internet. The dilemma that exists is that, in order for these men to participate in our labors and privileges, they must first pass through the “Real World” of Freemasonry. They must ask to become a Mason, petition a lodge, and go through the ritual of initiation in the brick and mortar world. Some do not see this “Real World” of Masonry as representative of what they are seeking. Others, who go through our degrees, simply leave never to return, when they realize that in “Real World” Masonry philanthropy precedes philosophy and they are not interested in tedious business meetings.
For Freemasonry to survive and succeed, a bridge needs to be built between these two worlds. These two groups must be brought together, because the legacy Masons hold the keys to our customs and traditions and the next generation of Masons have the curiosity, energy, and enthusiasm to carry us into the future. As Freemasons are first and foremost builders, this should be an easy task. Unfortunately, our legacy Masons are either worn out from keeping Freemasonry alive for the past 40 to 50 years, they may not possess the necessary skills to perform this task, or they are just too comfortable in the models they have created for themselves to want to change. If this is truly the case, then the only option is for the next generation of Masons to reach back across the gap. This next generation must learn and appreciate our customs and traditions and be sensitive to the concerns of the legacy Masons; they must continue to examine the symbolism, philosophy, and history of Freemasonry, with an eye toward self improvement; and they must share their new insights with all, from the E-Mason to the legacy Mason. The next generation Mason must explore different models for the practice of Freemasonry and bring those models into the “Real World”.
Freemasonry is a powerful institution, which first improves the character of the individual Mason, and then, by his action, the entire community. The world (both real and virtual) is a better place because of Freemasonry. I have great confidence that we will continue to be a positive influence on the world, and as the world changes, Freemasonry will change to accommodate the quest of the individual Brother.
I live in both worlds of Freemasonry, and I share some of the characteristics of both groups. I am comfortable with the models of Freemasonry we practice in the “Real World”. Yet, I have a desire for something I find lacking in the way Freemasonry is practiced in this country. I wish to be a positive influence on making our Craft better, therefore I continue to be a seeker for more light in Masonry.